University researchers develop skin-like sensor

Measuring core body temperature can be tricky. Thermometers can be placed in many different areas of the body with varying degrees of success. But one new technology, developed by University researchers, can replace the thermometer many children feared in childhood with a soft, skin-like sensor.

University researchers in the John Rogers Research Group have recently completed a project on a pliable skin sensor that attaches to the body, much like a temporary tattoo. Their findings were published in Nature on Sept. 15.

The skin sensor can be applied to the body while attached to a temporary tattoo, whether it be a favorite farm animal or an Illini Pirate.

John Rogers, professor of materials science and engineering, described the device as being “skin-like in its mechanical properties, in its weight and in its thickness.”

The sensor can be used to measure aspects of body physiology that can be useful in the medical field, as well as personal care. More specifically, Rogers said the device is capable of measuring “brain waves, beating of a heart (and the) contraction of skeletal muscles.”

A company named MC10 Inc. will market the finished product after the final bugs have been worked out.

Although the sensor itself has finished the testing phase, there are still some developments needed. For example, the sensor needs a suitable battery source, specifically one that doesn’t alter the product’s main purpose and doesn’t alter its pliability. Rogers discussed one possibility of a power source that utilizes radio frequency, or alternatively, an “ultrathin stretchable battery.”

The radio frequency source, Rogers said, serves as a more technologically functional power source in that it is able to transmit a wireless signal to a smartphone. This could potentially lead to the development of an app that can compile and present the data, he said.

The other potential source for power, the stretchable battery, has already been produced by Rogers. However, he said, the power source, if implemented with the sensor, would require the use of a separate device to download the data.

The research project team consists of more than 50 people. Woonhong Yeo, postdoctoral research associate, talked about Rogers’s ability to manage the large project.

“With that many people, it is really hard to respond,” he said. “He is doing a great job because he can take care of pretty much everything.”

Ethan can be reached at [email protected]